Part 1: What Is Domestic Violence?

The Duluth Model

Last month we kicked off a series of articles discussing what the church can do about domestic violence with an introductory piece, What The Church Can Do. In order for the church to respond properly to domestic violence, it must first be recognized for what it is.

Domestic violence is not physical violence alone. Domestic violence is any behavior the purpose of which is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member. Abuse is a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses.

Arizona Coalition To End Sexual and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of domestic violence/abuse can be occurring at any one time within the same intimate relationship.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

To be able to help victims of domestic violence to safety, churches need to recognize all forms of domestic violence, be they physical, sexual, financial, emotional, or psychological. Society often stereotypes domestic violence as extreme physical violence when this lust for power and control takes many forms. It is the opposite of Christlike behavior. It usually starts small, then escalates, and it can be fatal. An estimated 137 women a day globally are murdered by someone in their own family. In 2017, about 50,000 women were murdered by their current or former intimate partner. This is a worldwide crisis that needs the church’s intervention.

In the garden, the serpent told the man and woman that they could be as gods. When we choose to act in an ungodly, demeaning, and cruel way towards someone else, are we reflecting the love of God or are we acting as our own gods? Would Jesus find satisfaction in a light slap, a series of punches, or in abusing the family pets to appear powerful and gain compliance? When we take it upon ourselves to show the other party in the relationship who the boss is, who are we truly representing? There is no moral or scriptural basis for domestic violence, none. The Gospel preaches love and respect in relationships and leaves no room for abusive behaviors.

Domestic violence, per the above diagram, can be thought of as a pie. Physical violence is just one piece of the pie. There is an entire spectrum of behaviors that are used to harm others, and it tends to function in cycles. First there is the tension building phase. This builds to an abusive incident that can take many forms. After the disrespect and terror of the abusive incident, there is often a honeymoon phase. The abuser may apologize, repent, buy gifts, send flowers, or seem otherwise remorseful or thoughtful. This lulls the victim into thinking that the abuser will change and that maybe it won’t happen again. But it does happen again, and with each boundary violation, abusers can become bolder, more sadistic, and better at covering it up.

Now that we’ve acknowledged the many faces of domestic violence, and that it is rooted in power and control, we can talk about what other circumstances or behaviors are often blamed for the abuser’s behavior. In a recent meeting, we discussed some of the victim-blaming labels that are used to call domestic violence something other than it is. Domestic violence is neither caused by nor justified by a victim’s alleged disobedience, rebellion, menopause, selfishness, lack of a servant’s heart, mental illness, disability, physical ailment, unwillingness to submit, postpartum depression, stress level, or level of sexual desire. Victims do not need to be told to be a better wife, dress sexier, cook more, initiate sex, work on their spirituality, submit, act happy to see him, serve more, or that they’re there to please a man. Christ would not tell his beloved sons or daughters any of these lies. We should never blame victims for their abusers’ choices.

Domestic violence has terrible effects on victims. Physical injuries can include bruises, broken bones, traumatic brain injury, harm from strangulation, and trouble breathing. Victims often experience psychological injuries that can manifest as anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep disorders, and panic attacks. An abuser may showcase how “unstable,” “clumsy,” or “crazy” the victim is by highlighting these conditions. They may portray their victim as mentally ill or accident-prone. Victims may have to forfeit their homes, children, finances, pets, and belongings to flee to safety, which is why an estimated 60 percent of homeless women in the Seattle area are said to be domestic violence victims. The risk of homicide goes up 75 percent when a victim leaves an abusive relationship. The victim may experience stalking if they leave or be further abused by being kept in court for a divorce or child custody battle for as long as possible (abuse by paper).

The domestic violence epidemic in our country is unlikely to get better until the single biggest organized force for good, the body of Christ, decides to call it what it is and have established protocols for helping victims. Next month we will be discussing the very first question that should be asked when a church becomes aware of domestic violence. Until then, please use our Resources page to seek appropriate help for those who will inevitably need it. With a nation quarantined at home, domestic violence incidents are on the rise, and victims may be more isolated than ever before.

©2020 Christian Coalition for Safe Families

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